China and Display Cabinets

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China and Display Cabinets

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As one of the stalwart examples of traditional brown furniture, China cabinets have been through their collective ups and downs with style seekers — edging fresh feelings in some decades and evoking antiquated emotions in others.

Yet, few furniture pieces top this centuries-old workhorse when it comes to their ability to display heirlooms aplenty — from traditional blue willow china to rainbow gradient glass collections.

China cabinets also possess the unique ability to add panache to the oft-overlooked venue of the dining room.

For those who’ve adopted a china cabinet hutch into their homes, they’ll be the first to attest that there’s a dynamic energy that only a china cabinet can bring to a room.

England: Where the Journey Begins

China cabinets originated in England at the end of the 17th century.

Their ascent coincided with the rise in porcelain china’s popularity. Designed to be a treasury for these bequeathal breakables, China cabinets skewed a bit more hedonistic than other oak and pine cabinets of the day. This was thanks to their glass-front doors that intended to show off the exquisite commodities within. Early china cabinets were wooden and ranged in styles from Chippendale to Queen Anne. Later designs introduced Federalist and Georgian styles.

Most showcased a simple construction composed of a hutch, which was often enclosed with glass-fronted doors that were set atop a bank of drawers or a cabinet-style base. Some, depending on the style, feature detailing like leaded glass panes or finials.

What to Do, What to Do… (With China Cabinets)

Part of the china cabinet’s conundrum is what to stow inside of it now that porcelain china has been replaced with everyday dinnerware. A plethora of shelving and stacks of drawers means the refurbished china cabinet’s merits remain high. The only question is: How do you style one so that it doesn’t feel like a glaring anachronism?

Some have opted to remove a china cabinet’s doors to procure a more casual, open-shelving scenario.

These open doors can be lined with stacks of white dishes and peppered with accents like serving bowls, heirloom salt and pepper shakers — along with incidentals like gravy boats. This move transforms the piece into a well-stocked one-stop-shop for all things dining-related.

For more inspiration for a contemporary china cabinet makeover, read on! We’ve included some ideas for modernizing an outdated antique china cabinet to bring back that wow factor for your home.

These ideas include:

Painting its interior or exterior

Wallpapering its interior

Implementing monochromatic contents

Draping its interior with curtains

Idea #1: Paint the Interior or Exterior of a China Cabinet

An antique oak china cabinet can take on new ebullience with a simple coat of paint. However, the painted look can be a little trickier to pull off than simply slapping the reigning Pantone color of the year on your light wood china cabinet.

Trending kitchen cabinet colors can help field inspiration for vintage china cabinets, and basic shades like black, gray and white are fairly goof proof. The latter neutrals can sometimes run the risk of feeling a bit austere, though, so if you’re making a play for a more standout look, you may want to consider painting the interior of your China cabinet a contrasting hue.

Shades of gray and aqua partner beautifully with a black or white exterior, as do softer shades like beige, buff or ecru.

When choosing an interior paint color, it is beneficial to consider what you’ll be stocking inside your china cabinet. Silver, for instance, gleams against a backdrop of red or yellow; blue Spodeware looks radiant against cerulean blue.

Idea #2: Wallpaper the Interior of a China Cabinet

A wallpapered china cabinet interior will act much like a mural, making this sleight of hand perfect for those who dare to dabble in drama — without making a major commitment.

Some ideas to consider:

Pair with paint. Wallpaper makes the biggest impact when it’s cozied up against rich hues, so consider this tactic for china cabinet hutches you’ve already painted (or are planning to paint).

Choose scroll-y toiles and Chinoiserie motifs for more traditional cabinets like Queen Annes — even for shapely Federalist cabinets.

Play up a Chinese Chippendale cabinet’s fretwork with a geometric paper or even a simple quatrefoil print.

Practice restraint: China cabinets with wallpapered interiors, especially small china cabinets, do require a reserved hand when it comes to styling their contents.

Restraint is key to ensure that a wallpaper doesn't result in visual clutter.

Idea #3: Load Up on Monochromatic Contents

At best, china cabinets outfitted with carefully assembled place settings look a bit fussy; at worst, they can resemble a scannable wedding registry display on a Saks or a Bloomingdales sales floor.

It all boils down to how you choose to fill your vintage china cabinet.

Most designers won’t advise you against displaying your porcelain treasures in your china cabinet. They will, however, likely advise you to employ a bit of color synchronization to evoke a modern mood.

This is especially true for china cabinets that are more visually intricate, such as Mission-style cabinets or Chinese Chippendale cabinets (especially those with fret-worked glass). These two styles can benefit from monochromatic contents.

Consider filling a Mission-style cabinet with items that adhere to a vibrant turquoise palette. A burnt orange is great for those who are feeling even more punchy.

Relatively unadorned china cabinets are champion candidates for experimenting with color gradation. A white china cabinet can be decked out with a full spectrum of rainbow glassware to curate the ultimate eye-catching look.

Idea #4: Drape the Interior of a China Cabinet with Curtains

Not all of us are exhibitionists, and sometimes a china cabinet’s transparent doors seem downright daunting.

If you’re among those who would rather shirk from putting personal collectibles on display, consider dressing a china cabinet’s windows with tension-pleated drapes.

Adhere one tension rod just above your China cabinet's window top and another on the bottom. From there, pull a panel of fabric taught between the two to create a polished, pleated effect.

Traditional cabinets tend to make the most befitting partner for the look, as do cabinets with shapely window cut-outs or windows overlaid with lead or wood fretwork.